A piece I made for Worcester Magazine this past summer on female boxer Allie Lavigne from Sterling, Mass.
The week-long trip to Washington D.C. is finally over and after four days back in the college world, I am beyond ready to graduate. It was not an easy transition back to week six (plus having next month’s rent due), and I felt myself in this surreal kind of senioritis haze for the first few days. D.C. was such a tease. It opened my eyes to all of these incredible professions and these incredible people and places to work and now somehow I have to focus instead on the 5-page “History of Polish Food” paper that I have due at midnight.
In all serious, the trip was a great way to start preparing myself for what’s to come in 7 months. What differed a lot from the New York trip, I found, was the emphasis put on photo editing this time around. I don’t feel like the people we met with in NY delved anywhere near as deep in editing as the D.C. professionals did. Which was awesome for me. Among what the other editors said, I remember one in particular from the alumni party, Jenna Isaacson Pfueller of AARP. She described her duties as photo editor/researcher as the search for a missing piece of a puzzle. She constantly has to come up with new and creative ways to find the perfect image for a story, anywhere from scrounging the wires to sometimes even a last resort on Ebay. Immediately I knew that I would absolutely love to constantly be filling in the missing pieces, as innovatively as I could.
If you haven’t guessed by now, the trip solidified my choice to pursue photo editing. Throughout the week, there were a few pieces of advice repeated almost every place we went:
I know what I need to do, and how to get where I want to be. Now all I have to do is do it. Carpe freaking diem. Look out world.
IT’S FRIDAY! Where has the week gone!? This post will be on the shorter side because the week ended with only one stop: Reuters. There we met with photographers Larry Downing and Jason Reed, who had a new take on the industry to share with us. The pair came together in 2011 and began working as a team on multimedia pieces, as seen on their vimeo page here. I thought it was very helpful how they brought in and showed the exact audio and video recording equipment they use to make their work (many of which I also use myself). Reed explained that when making multimedia pieces, the photographer is not only the videographer but about 5 other people ranging from the editor to the sound person as well. He encouraged us to work in teams to create something that could be much stronger than just doing it on our own.
The opposite from what we have been taught, Reed explained that he and Downing wait until the last day of shooting to sit down with a subject and complete an audio interview. His take was that you don’t really know what questions to ask a subject until you have spent some time with them, so instead of trying that out first and shooting what they say in the interview, you could wait until the end instead. It’s an interesting tactic and one certainly worth a try, I think.
Reed said that the key to working together was for he and downing to forget their egos. Instead of referring to a project as “mine”, they changed to “we”. This way they found they could forget about who shot what and make the strongest work possible. They then showed us a collection of their work and how far it had come, which was pretty cool to see. I loved how down to earth and laid back they were, a common theme throughout pretty much everyone we met with this week. In one word I’d describe Reuters as “classy”, and I’d die to work for them someday.
It is now Thursday of the trip and the class was given a much needed break (after a full day yesterday) with only two stops for the day. First we visited the McClatchy Tribune News Service, a wire service and leading newspaper and Internet publisher. There we met with Senior Photo Editor Linda Epstein who echoed a lot of what we have been hearing throughout the week. She told us to first and foremost to research an organization before you try to apply for a job there. They want to know what you can do for them to help with their specific vision, and not about generic or vague ambitions. She explained the importance of networking and that the in this business, editors talk. They know pretty much everybody so it is crucial to keep in contact because even if a certain editor doesn’t have an opening with you, they probably know someone else who does.
McClatchy deals a lot with portraiture, specifically environmental, so Epstein advised us to learn basic lighting and portrait tips that can make us quite a bit of money down the road. One thing that was especially helpful for me was that she provided us with the company’s database of photographs. As an aspiring editor, I can then go through and search through all of these pictures as I please to create potential layouts and spreads for an editing portfolio, which I thought was very cool. Other tips were to always read through the contract thoroughly and never accept a job for free. “You can’t pay the bills with a credit line,” I believe was the exact quote. Very true.
After McClatchy we headed on over to National Geographic. Yes, the National Geographic. As soon as we got off the elevator on the 10th or so floor, I could immediately tell by the texture of the carpets that this was the big time. Once I was able to pull myself away from the beautifully printed majestic creatures that lined the walls, Senior Editor Bill Douhitt, Deputy Director of Photography Ken Geiger, and DOP Sarah Leen sat us down to share some tips. Leen started off by telling us about the way that time is factored in on any given assignment. She said that often it is targeted and direct, but she also stressed the importance of leaving room for serendipity. You never know what might happen or what you might see when out on assignment, and it is important to be open to anything.
Geiger then went on to explain the NatGeo process of turning stories from ideas into reality. An editor, photographer, writer, or whomever will come up with an idea and then write a one page synopsis about it. Once a month the story committee will meet and the team will decided which ideas to pursue. When approved, the story will go to Leen who will assign a photo editor/photographer/writer to it and the budgeting processes will ensue (we actually got to see a real finance sheet for a story, which was pretty cool). These stories are planned years in advance, so often times they won’t actually be published in the magazine for quite some time.
The process after that is to send the photographer out let them do what they do best. About halfway through the assignment, editors like Douhitt will check on the progress of the photographs and make suggestions as to where to go from there. Douhitt said that one of the hardest things he has to do as an editor is to recognize when a story is simply not working, and have to kill it. “If I’ve done my job properly (research, etc),” he said, “it never gets to that point.” The photographer then completes the assignment (some lasting weeks, some months, some years), and the layout and design process occurs. Geiger told us that some layouts just fly together seamlessly, and some take a lot more work and revisions. I loved the fact that they took us through the whole story development, it really put into perspective the amount of immense effort and time it will take. Which is exactly why NatGeo only hires seasoned “mature” veterans. You need to know how to be as efficient as possible when working for such a prestigious name.
Day three of the trip was jam packed with meetings back to back from the time we woke up, until now at 1 a.m., as I am writing this. The morning began with a drive out to Virginia to meet with USA Today, and what seemed like their entire photo department. Deputy Director of Multimedia Andrew Scott, editor Jym Wilson, Video Director Steve Elfers and staff photographers Darr Beiser and Jack Gruber all shared their arsenal of knowledge with us. One of the first pieces of advice they shared with us was to learn how to become not only great photographers but excellent writers as well. I believe it was photographer Darr Beiser who said, “If you can’t write, you can’t tell a story with pictures.” Which I believe to be entirely true, I mean, knowing the fundamentals of literal storytelling can only help us in this profession.
One other memorable piece of advice came from photographer Jack Gruber. With a visible passion and love for life, he told us that he strives to shoot work that is above and beyond, always. Since the name that is credited to the photo or video is his, subpar work that editors or reporters may suggest for him to do is not something that would reflect well on his reputation. We were told to learn how to be great documentarians, know how to shoot video, and be comfortable with portraiture. Not only do we need to be great photographers, but great business people as well, and not to work for free or misvalue ourselves. I don’t quite remember who said it, but there is one quote in my notebook that reads, “If something is uncomfortable then you’d better spend some time doing it.” That sentiment I think is true about all aspects in a persons life, not solely their career. I fully believe the age old saying that if something challenges you, even frightens you, then it’s worth doing. Hence why my bucket list is full of swimming with sharks and jumping off cliffs.
The next stop was to visit Director of Photography Michael Wichita and photo editor & RIT alum Lindsey Leger at AARP. (Keep in mind, according to Wichita, this is no longer your grandmother’s AARP). I actually really enjoyed the informal and laid back discussion we had, and especially enjoyed learning about the different editing avenues like photo researching and so on. Wichita echoed some of the other sentiments we’ve heard thus far: be unique, take risks, be willing to be wrong, and write handwritten notes. He told us to be invested in issues that are important to us individually, and look at stories in a different way than anyone else. For editors, one exercise he suggested we try is to look at a spread a magazine or paper has already done and see how you could illustrate the story differently, whether it be photo choice, layout, etc. I thought that was an excellent idea and plan to work on projects like that in the future.
After that we travelled to the Associated Press to meet with Assistant Chief of Bureau/Photos David Ake as well as staff photographers & RIT alums Jacquelyn Martin and Evan Vucci. After just completing a picture editing project last week using the AP database where I accidentally ended up using solely Martin’s photos because I liked them so much, to seeing her in person- this was a big deal. Ake began by telling us that it would likely take us about 5 years outside of school to “make it.” This didn’t come as any surprise, however. In fact, I was actually expecting longer.
We were advised to carry our gear everywhere we go. Everywhere. And shoot. Shoot everything. Even as photo editors, we need to learn how the equipment works so that we can keep up with an intelligent conversation while dealing with photographers. Ake also told us one thing that he wished he had known when he was starting out- to collect a portfolio of stock images everywhere we go that can be used to sell later. “It will be your retirement fund,” he said. Martin then went on to talk about the importance of a persistent attitude. After claiming that she had once applied to nearly 100 jobs on the NPPA website, and being where she is now, it’s clear that this strategy works. She told us that she usually does a personal project a year to stay sane. Martin will use her vacation time to travel all over the world and shoot for herself. Who wouldn’t want to do that!?
Evan Vucci then explained the importance of the shots “in between.” It isn’t the posed handshakes that are important in this industry, though we will have to do a lot of those, but it’s what happens before and after. We were told to put every bit of effort and skill into a shoot, no matter how small or even if it’s only for five measly minutes. It is our name in the credit line, after all.
Our last meeting consisted of a panel of professionals crammed into an empty Reuters conference room, believe it or not. First to present was European Photo Agency photographer Jim Lo Scalzo, whose multimedia work we had previously seen in Meredith’s Multimedia I class (and loved). Lo Scalzo began by offering tips on pitching stories. He spoke about the importance of completing all your research and secure any permission from your subjects BEFORE you turn to your editor. This way, when the editor says yes, you can immediately start working and limit any snags along the way. Also included in that is to give specifics on the amount of time a story will take and the budget your editor will need for it. Knowing all of these factors will make the editor that much more trusting of you as a photographer.
Next to go was photojournalist Mary Calvert, who showed us her work on women dealing with sexual assault in the military. I felt that this piece was extremely moving and strong, and a subject matter that is definitely new and unique. One thing she said really stuck in my mind though, which was, “A photojournalist is not something that you do, it’s something that you are.” We then heard from Washington Post staff photographer Jahi Chikwendiu who told us the story of having all of his equipment stolen while in the Congo. Chikwendiu travelled to South America, bought a point and shoot, and finished his work in Africa with very limited gear. He advised us to expand our vision through whatever equipment we have, and not to let it hold us back.
Last to go was National Geographic Multimedia Editor/Producer Spencer Millsap. As someone not much older than the 15 or so of us, it was inspiring to hear from someone who has truly gotten his life together. Millsap showed us a series of multimedia pieces that he has worked on, ranging from the drought in Texas to penguins in the Arctic. He then told us about what he is working on now, which is essentially a job he created himself. Millsap is getting ready to tour the world for 40 days with a reporter learning about sustainability and innovation by the people who do it best. Titled “Enroute”, the multimedia project is something I could absolutely see myself working towards in the future. It’s now very late and I’m rambly so I think I’m done here.
Day two of the trip and the morning started with a visit to the United States Institute of Peace. Created in 1984, this governmentally funded organization’s mission is to resolve conflict internationally. There we met with Carol McKay, photo editor, staff photographer Bill FitzPatrick and Digital Media Assistant Steven Ruder. Their advice was some of the same that we’ve been hearing throughout the week and on the past trip as well. Ruder told us to be as well versed in as many various and pertinent skills as you can, i.e. InDesign, video and audio recording, and social media knowledge as well. There was one suggestion from Fitzpatrick however, that really stood out: waiting for the moment. You can take a lot of frames, but if you don’t have any moments, the photographs are useless.
Next we travelled to NPR which was one of the most beneficial portions of the trip so far. We met with multimedia editor Coburn Dukehart and multimedia producer/trainer Kainaz Amaria. Dukehart spoke about the importance of having your own visual identity, personal vision, and distinct aesthetic. This is what will set you apart from other photographers and can assure editors that whatever they send you out to shoot will look neat and put together.
She also talked about how much of an asset it is for us as a class to utilize each other after we graduate. Eventually we will end up working together again and it can help to keep in touch and know what everyone has been doing. Dukehart said that the majority of the freelancers she hires she has heard about through word of mouth and through speaking with other editors and people she trusts in the industry. Like we heard yesterday, it is important to maintain a professional and upstanding reputation. After this first meeting we were given a tour of the NPR building which was incredibly neat. We got to see inside studios, inside the newsroom, and most importantly, the photo department.
We then got an inside look at a Tiny Desk recording of the group Dessa, which is where artists perform inside the NPR office around a desk. They were phenomenal, and as I was standing there looking around at everyone in the office, I realized how big of a deal this trip is. Who else can say they’ve seen the things I have? And it’s only Tuesday.
We ended the day at NPR listening to an incredibly enthusiastic and wonderfully helpful woman, Kainaz Amaria. Informally we sat down with her and talked about the industry for entry level photography jobs today. Increasingly, NPR’s member stations are realizing where the world is heading and hiring photo interns to create an online visual presence for them. These may not be in the most exciting locations, but they are certainly an interesting way to start. Amaria spoke about her vast repertoire of work, including the Planet Money kickstarter with NPR that would detail every step in the process of creating a single t-shirt. The backer would then receive one of the shirts with a detailed report of where it came from. It was expected to raise $50,000 and instead raised nearly $600,000. I felt like this was such a unique idea and that the response from the public was truly remarkable. It’s new things like this that we need not be afraid to dream up, because there are certainly ways to make them into reality.
As I did last spring in NYC, my fourth year RIT photojournalism class and I have travelled this time to Washington, D.C. to meet and learn from some of the top professionals in the photojournalism world. To begin the week we visited Bloomberg News and met with Andrew Harrer of the photography department. Acting as both a photo editor and shooter for the D.C. branch, Harrer had quality advice to share. After graduating from RIT he completed and internship with Bloomberg in New York, and was later hired to work for the company in D.C.
What stuck out for me from Harrer’s talk was the importance of showing a different angle to a situation. Even though I don’t personally want to pursue shooting in the future, it is just as important for an editor to keep images looking fresh and unique. Shooting the same thing the same way over and over again is mundane, mindless work. Harrer also directed us to finish up our last semester of college with government/politics and video classes.
After Bloomberg we metro bussed our way to U.S. News & World Report. There we met with Director of Photography Avi Gupta who is a shooter turned editor for the digital weekly and special report in print publication. Gupta first spoke about gaining confidence with his editing and learning to trust his eye. I felt that I could totally relate to this because as someone just starting out, it’s incredibly hard to realize why you recognize that a strong photograph is strong. His words if advice were to edit based on what the intention of the photographer is. Be conscious of what they are trying to communicate and who your audience will be.
Gupta also spoke about uniqueness. He hires photographers based on whether they can provide a new point of view and if their work will yield a different result than anyone else. Most importantly, the work, done almost solely by free-lancers, must be able to benefit U.S. News & World Report.
I also found it helpful what Gupta said about location. Being a photographer in a very dense city like NY or LA will make it incredibly hard to stand out. But if you are located in a smaller city with less competition, it is more likely that you will get a greater amount of work from publications like this. Also, you should know your location inside and out. Hiring local photographers in an area can create a leg-up for a photographer, sometimes offering ideas that the photo editor hadn’t even thought of. Gupta stressed that being able to communicate and stay in touch with your editor while on a shoot (and thereafter) is of the upmost importance. This is a deal breaker for Gupta and probably most every other editor, too.
As we near the end of day one, I already feel like D.C. could be a great place to spend some more time in the future.